Summary of the National Food Security Act 2013
(as passed in the Lok Sabha on 26/8/13)
By Jean DREZE
The Act extends to the whole of India and “shall be deemed to have come into force on the 5th day of July 2013”. [NB: This is the date when the National Food Security Ordinance 2013 came into force.]
Public Distribution System (PDS)
Priority households are entitled to 5 kgs of foodgrains per person per month, and Antyodaya households to 35 kgs per household per month. The combined coverage of Priority and Antyodaya households (called “eligible households”) shall extend “up to 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population”. The PDS issue prices are given in Schedule I: Rs 3/2/1 per kg for rice/wheat/millets. These may be revised after three years.
For children in the age group of 6 months to 6 years: an age-appropriate meal, free of charge, through the local anganwadi. For children aged 6-14 years: one free mid-day meal every day (except on school holidays) in all government and government-aided shools, up to Class VIII. For children below six months, “exclusive breastfeeding shall be promoted”. For children who suffer from malnutrition, meals will be provided to them free of charge “through the local anganwadi”.
Entitlements of Pregnant and Lactating Women
Every pregnant and lactating mother is entitled to a free meal at the local anganwadi (during pregnancyand six months after child birth) as well as maternity benefits of Rs 6,000, in instalments.
[Notes: (1) “Meal” is defined as “hot cooked or pre-cooked and heated before its service meal or take home ration, as may be prescribed by the Central Government”. All “meals” have to meet nutritional norms specified in Schedule II. (2) The entitlements of women and children are to be delivered by state governments through schemes in accordance with guidelines to be prescribed by the Central Government.]
3. Identification of Eligible Households
The Act does not specify criteria for the identification of households eligible for PDS entitlements. The Central Government is to determine the state-wise coverage of the PDS (proportion of the rural/urban population). Then numbers of eligible persons will be calculated from Census population figures. The identification of eligible households is left to state governments, subject to the scheme’s guidelines for Antyodaya, and subject to guidelines to be “specified” by the state government for Priority households. The identification of eligible households is to be completed within 365 days. The lists of eligible households are to be placed in the public domain and “displayed prominently”.
4. Food Commissions
The Act provides for the creation of State Food Commissions. The main function of the State Commission is to monitor the implementation of the Act, give advice to the states governments and their agencies, and inquire into violations of entitlements. State Commissions also have to hear appeals against orders of the District Grievance Redressal Officer and prepare annual reports.
5. Transparency and Grievance Redressal
The Act provides for a two-tier grievance redressal structure, involving the District Grievance Redressal Officer (DGRO) and State Food Commission. State governments must also put in place an internal grievance redressal mechanism which may include call centres, help lines, etc.
Mandatory transparency provisions include: (1) placing all PDS-related records in the public domain; (2) conducting periodic social audits of the PDS and other welfare schemes; (3) using information and communication technology “to ensure transparent recording of transactions at all levels”; (4) setting up vigilance committees at all levels to supervise all schemes under the Act.
District Grievance Redressal Officers
DGROS shall be appointed by state governments for each district to hear complaints and take necessary action according to norms to be prescribed by state governments. If a complainant is not satisfied, he or she may file an appeal before the State Food Commission.
Penalties and Compensation
The Food Commissions have powers to impose penalties. If an order of the DGRO is not complied with, the concerned authority or officer can be fined up to Rs. 5,000. The Commission can authorise “any of its members” to act as an adjudicating officer for this purpose.In case of “non-supply of the entitled quantities of foodgrains or meals to entitled persons”, such persons will be entitled to a food security allowance from the state government, as prescribed by the central government.
6. Other Provisions
In Chapter V, the Act states that central and state governments “shall endeavour to progressively undertake” various PDS reforms, including: doorstep delivery of foodgrains; end-to-end computerisation; leveraging “aadhaar” (UID) for unique identification of entitled beneficiaries; full transparency of records; preference to public institutions or bodies in licensing of fair price shops; management of fair price shops by women or their collectives; diversification of commodities distributed under the PDS; full transparency of records; and “introducing schemes such as cash transfer, food coupons or other schemes to the targeted beneficiaries in order to ensure their foodgrain entitlements” as prescribed by the central government.
Obligations of Government and Local Authorities
The main obligation of the Central Government is to provide foodgrains (or, failing that, funds) to state governments, at prices specified in Schedule I, to implement the main entitlements. The Central Government has wide-ranging powers to make Rules “in consultation with the state government”.
The main obligation of state governments is to implement the relevant schemes, in accordance with the Central Government guidelines. State governments also have wide-ranging powers to make Rules. They are free to extend benefits and entitlements beyond what is prescribed in the Act, from their own resources.
Local Authorities and Panchayati Raj Institutions are responsible for proper implementation of the Act in their respective areas, and may be given additional responsibilities by notification.
The Act has four schedules (these can be amended “by notification”). Schedule I prescribes issue prices for the PDS. Schedule II prescribes “nutritional standards” for midday meals, take-home rations and related entitlements. Schedule III lists various “provisions for advancing food security”. Schedule IV specifies a minimum foodgrain allocation for each state; in the case of states that might lose otherwise under the Act, this essentially means a continuing of existing allocations.